ELV Returns With Euro Trip Tips!

Yes, Horst Weinerschnitzel and Little Frenchie are baaaaaaack — with recharged batteries and re-calibrated palates.

We thank a series of great hotels for the former and France and Germany for the latter.

Unlike the crazy kids in this (raunchy, funny, underrated) movie:

<b>Eurotrip</b> Poster Artwork – Scott Mechlowicz, Jacob Pitts, Michelle ...

….ELV and The Food Gal® didn’t encounter any soccer hooligans,  gratuitous nudity or Dutch S&M brothels.

What we did encounter was a different Europe than the one we last visited seven years ago, with a much stronger dollar and 21st Century electronics making things both easier and more interesting.

So, in the spirit of furthering international relations, here are a few observations and pieces of advice that may be of assistance, should you be contemplating a trip across the pond:

> Strong dollar = use your credit card. Preferably a travel rewards card. Keep your ATM euro withdrawals  to a minimum as the % fees will eat you up. (Example: it costs $113.80 to withdraw 500 euros from an ATM, once all “transaction fees” are added up on both sides of the pond. The days of grabbing euros as you go as are as dead as a Greek credit rating.) Using your credit card also ensures you get the best exchange rate and aren’t throwing money away on those ATM transactions, as we did, to the tune of about $300. Speaking of throwing away money…

> Get an increased data plan from your smartphone network. Then, do everything in your power not to use it. Find wi-fi hotspots when you can, and limit your internet, Facebook and other browsing to a minimum until you are in a wi-fi zone. Those increased data plans work (we paid $120 for one) and pretty much used it up over two solid weeks of picture posting. Once you exceed your data plan limit, it’s Katie bar the door as far as fees are concerned. That said….

> Wi-fi hotspots in Europe are a pain in the ass. Your hotel will give you a password, and your phone will tell you you’re in a good zone with plenty of reception…and you’ll still find getting and sending data (on social media sites, e-mails, etc.) to be a dicey proposition. (We found this to be true whether you’re in a real city, e.g Frankfurt and Strasbourg, or cruising eastern France and western Germany – not exactly third world countries.) Texting and telephoning, however, didn’t seem to a problem at all. Something else that’s no longer a problem…

> Navigation. The days of fooling with tablecloth-sized maps are deader than Escoffier’s ghost. Rent a car. Get a GPS. True fact: this was the first time ELV (who had been to Europe numerous times in the past twenty years) had ever driven there. There are great road maps everywhere these days, but the rental car companies will ask you if you want a navigation system and you should definitely pay the extra ten bucks a day for one. Even in the most out-of-the-way hamlet (and believe us, France and Germany are filled with towns that make Hooterville seem like San Francisco), all you do is punch in an address and a nice, disembodied female computer voice leads you through every twist, turn and roundabout in the road. (And believe us, there are more roundabouts in France and Germany than there are grapevines in the Mosel. What there isn’t much of in Europe is…

> English language TV. If you’re a television addict traveling in France or Germany, you have three choices: watch foreign soap operas (that are just as stupid and predictable as American soap operas) or watch the BBC World Network. Or go cold turkey. Which is what you’ll end up doing anyway, since, as good as the BBC is, one can only spend so much time learning about the intricacies of the Tokyo stock exchange and ivory poachers in Africa. Three straight days of somber proclamations about Turkish politics and Norwegian oil dependency is enough to send even the most ardent news junkie straight to a German game show. Or even better, a good book. Speaking of books…

> To eat well, use Le Guide Michelin, either in-print or on-line. No matter what you may think of Michelin’s American presence (and its bizarre love of Tokyo), it is indispensable for culling through your options while in mainland Europe. And we’re not just talking about the coveted Michelin-starred establishments. Eating one, two or three-star meals grows wearisome, even for an old gustatory gastronaut like yours truly. Sometimes all you want is a good plate of local grub. Michelin mentions thousands of places with worthwhile cooking — from an off-the-beaten-path German gasthaus (guest house) to the simplest of bistros. These are simple, homey joints with good cooking of local cuisine at fair prices — the ones that make traveling in Europe such a joy — and Michelin almost never steers you wrong. (Neither does Gilles Pudlowski, but finding English translations of his guide books can be difficult.) Rule of thumb: If it’s listed in Michelin, or features a “Pudlo” seal of approval on the front door, you will eat well there. The starred joints are another matter entirely, but in France, especially, Michelin gets it right. What is fourteen kinds of wrong is….

> Trying to buy wine there and ship it here. Don’t even think about it. As more than one wine seller said to us: “If I sell you 300 euros of wine, it will cost you 350 euros to ship it to the States.” This was always followed by a big frown and a nod of understanding. So, as much as you’re in love with that impossible-to-get-in-America bottle of Oberschiwhurkatzemjammerbebleheimkaiserstrafenbeerenauslese Riesling, the only thing to do is buy a bottle and throw it in your luggage and leave it at that. What more than makes up for this sorrowful state of #firstworldproblems is the fact that…

> Finding a bad meal in France is harder than finding soul food in Saskatoon. From the bistros to the bakeries to the tourist traps, the everyday cooking on the west side of the Rhine generally trumps anything you’ll find in Deutschland, with the exception of Michelin-starred joints run by German superstar chefs, which are every bit the equal of their French counterparts. But when it comes to casual, no one on earth beats La Belle France. The Frogs (ELV uses this term affectionately and with respect) perfected the art of casual dining back when the Huns were still consumed with crossing the Alps, and no matter what you stumble upon, especially in the small towns, you will be impressed by the quality of the cooking. Such is not always the case in Deutschland, where they have an aversion to refinement in their food that goes back to Luther. But whether  you’re a feinschmecker or a fresser, you will find….

> Tipping in Germany to be more common than you think. When we ate our first 3-star meal at the Schwarzwaldstube (Black Forest Room), we were surprised to find a line on the bill that said Trinkgeld. “Das ist vhat?” we asked in our fractured German. “For the tip, Herr Curtas,” was the polite reply. No one had told us that service was not, as the French say: compris (included), as it states on your bill in France and Italy. Upon further inquiry, we found out the next day that, in nicer establishments, a 10% gratuity is usually added by the customer and a line is included on the bill for doing so. (In true, fat cat, living-beyond-our-means, ugly American-style, we left 100 euros on the table at the “Stube” – because it was one of the best meals of our life, and because it’s fun pretending like you’re from Texas.) Places like bars and bistros don’t have a “trinkgeld” line on the bill or your credit card receipt; they are more like France: round up your bill by leaving a few cents or euros on the table. We were also advised to tip the bellmen — which we did — and not the chambermaids — which we did not. All of which led us to the (not especially unique) conclusion that…

> Germans are an interesting lot. “How do you get a German to loosen up?” we asked a dissipated Englishman (who told us he had lived in Frankfurt for thirty years) in a wine bar one night. “First, get them to learn English,” was his cheeky reply. He then regaled us with tales of humor-less ex-wives, immigration policy, and political philosophizing that attempted, between healthy gulps of beer, to explain everything from Angela Merkel’s sex life to those pesky Nazis. Before you get the wrong impression, we should say that we met many friendly, exceedingly charming people in our week of cruising through the wine country, the Black Forest, and Frankfurt. What you don’t meet is a lot of smiles, unless you’re in a Relais & Chateau resort. Germans seem to regard smiling as a waste of energy, and view it with the same antipathy they reserve for inaccurate time pieces and green vegetables. When you’re smiling you’re not being serious about something, and when you’re not being serious about something, something, somewhere, isn’t getting done. Or so the thinking must go.

> And don’t even think about laughing out loud. Or pointing. Germans hate pointing. At anything. Laughing and pointing pegs you instantly as some uncouth, carefree, fun-loving American. Or even worse, an Italian.

Prost!

4 thoughts on “ELV Returns With Euro Trip Tips!

  1. Buy a GPS. It’ll cost you less than $100 on Ebay, new, and you can program all your destintations in advance.

    Use Michelin to an extent, but find a local instead – Eatinerary, Chowhound, or the Blogs. You can find someone anywhere with a little effort.

    AirBnb. Safer and smarter than it will ever be in the US.

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